Once there was a woman who had the call to wilderness in her. She saw the forests in her universe, but distantly.
By Sisters Michele Mangan and Susan Blomstad
We are the joyous Franciscan Sisters and Associates of St. Francis
Province living and working mostly in the western states of the U.S.
We belong to a worldwide community which began in a little town in
the Netherlands in the eighteen hundreds. Yes, there were windmills
and Dutch shoes at that time, but more importantly, there was a
woman named Magdalen Damen, eager to help the poor, the sick,
and needy children. We began with her and now have spread to many
nations around the world and are known in a more formal way as The
Franciscan Sisters of Penance and Christian Charity.
Informally, we have been known by many names in various nations, such as: that motorcycle sister delivering food and medicine (East Timor); that 3 am hospital sister comforting the dying (Montana); that sister, constant in the daily lives of poor children (Los Angeles); that sister nurse helping birth a baby when the Doctor fainted (Santa Maria).
St. Francis understood the brotherhood and sisterhood of all creation
and has been an inspiration for his followers to continue to address
the climate crisis of today. Witness: that sister who advocated for
recycling waste at our hospital and for a co-generation plant that
makes electricity energy-efficient (Santa Maria). Francis’ early call
came through an encounter with a leper. In that encounter he heard
a call for a relationship of service and presence with those who are
marginalized and in need. Witness: that sister who mainstreamed the
works of young Hispanic artists, generating a Hispanic Art Movement
(Los Angeles); that sister who fed the “tramps” and homeless from the
back door of the convent, even when reprimanded by the police
(Sacramento); that sister who, with unending energy, answered the
need for food, clothing, documents and jobs for immigrants newly
arrived from other countries in their new home (Las Vegas).
Many of you have heard of the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis. He was a peacemaker in his time, even brokering peace during the warring days of the Crusades. Witness in our time that sister who promoted peace and non-violence by her “disarming” ways while protesting the use and development of nuclear weapons (Las Vegas). Many of you are familiar with the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis. He was a peacemaker in his time, even brokering peace during the warring days of the Crusades. Witness in our time that sister who promoted peace and non-violence by her “disarming” ways while protesting the use and development of nuclear weapons (Las Vegas).
Magdalen Damen was a “relationships” person. With Magdalen
Damen it all began with women of various personalities and ages
wishing to join her in openness to the sick, poor and children. Like
Franciscans before her she related to all who came to share her life
dedicated to Christ. What was she really like? She was ever prayerful,
resourceful, and kind. In that time there was too much cold, too much
hunger, too much wonder about what would come tomorrow.
Reliance on God, “God will provide” was Magdalen’s ever-present
thought. She and her few companions built their own little house
from the ground up. No mean accomplishment for a few poor women
wishing to live the gospel life together. From that one poor little house
came many other houses and many other women wishing to live the
gospel life as she did. The first house in the U.S. was in Ohio, and then
Buffalo, New York and houses spread across the land, from east to
west. In the west, in 1901, our first community house was across the
street from Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, California.
Magdalen Damen was a faith filled person. Her deep conviction, “God will provide”, has been evident throughout the lives of the followers of Magdalen Damen.
Witness: the question of how to secure land for a hospital was answered with a generous gift of several acres of strawberry fields. GOD WILL PROVIDE! (Santa Maria) Witness: having lived through many changes and challenges in both church and society, our reliance on God’s providence continues to sustain and enliven us to answer to the mission of Francis and Magdalen in our time.
This map illustrates the places we have served over the last 80 years: